Fan engagement

A weekly sports column from the 100 Mile Free Press

Conversations about celebrations in hockey are ongoing after the Carolina Hurricanes lined up in a W formation and did the Skol clap (made famous by the Icelandic senior national men’s soccer team) and then fell down like dominoes after a shootout win in late October.

Individual goal celebrations have always been encouraged, such as Teemu Selanne’s famous one of shooting his goal and probably the most famous celebration ever; Tiger Williams riding his stick after he scored his third goal of a hat trick during a game against the original Winnipeg Jets in 1984.

However, sometimes a celebration suddenly becomes a hot topic.

Nine years ago, Alex Ovechkin pretended his stick was on fire and warmed his hands over it after scoring his 50th goal of the 2008-09 season.

It caused a bit of a media sensation. Of course, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who the goal was scored against, did not enjoy Ovechkin’s antics. But sports pundits and fans had mixed reviews on it. Much like the Carolina Hurricanes’ celebration this year.

Celebrations such as the latter are very common in European hockey and sports over there in general. In my view, these types of celebrations do not fall under being disrespectful or unsportsmanlike. It encourages fan engagement and show’s them that the players are passionate about where they play.

How can that be a bad thing?

With more and more European players coming into the league and over to North American leagues such as the MLS and NBA, we are due to see more displays like that. And the leagues should embrace that.

It’s entertaining. It draws younger fans into the stands and creates a stronger fanbase.

Brian Burke, the former general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Anaheim Ducks, got it all wrong in a radio interview when he called Carolina’s celebration “absurdly amateurish, pee-wee garbage stuff,” and adding that he didn’t think it was professional.

Interaction with fans is how teams grow dedicated and loyal fanbases. It doesn’t have to be done just by post-game entertaining celebrations.

The Las Vegas Golden Knights, for example, have led the charge for North American sports teams and using Twitter, despite being less than two years old. They interact with fans and interact with other team’s Twitter profiles, often using witty insults.

Instead of just game updates, their Twitter account offers more.

It might not get fans into the stands but the Golden Knights have 423k followers, while the Arizona Coyotes have 347k despite being established in the area since 1996 (they were originally the Winnipeg Jets from 1972-1996, in the 70s they played in WHA).

However, social media doesn’t replace the fan engagement in the arena, it just supplements it. While Carolina might not be doing the best this year, they’ve extended their attendance from 13,321 to 13,973 this season, according to www.hockeydb.com. The Hurricanes jumped from being 30th in the league for attendance to 28th.

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